Study Visa UK: Understanding Your Options


While the colloquial term “study visa UK” is widely used, it’s important to recognise that it is not, in fact, an official route under the UK’s Immigration Rules.

The term “study visa” actually refers to three specific visa categories that cater to different educational needs:


a. Student Visa: for individuals aged 16 or over, attending long-term courses at post-secondary institutions in the UK.

b. Child Student Visa: for children aged 4 to 17 to study at independent schools in the UK.

c. Short-Term Study Visa: for individuals attending short English language courses in the UK.


Understanding the differences in these UK study visas is critical to selecting the correct route for your circumstances.

In this guide, we will explore each of these visa categories in detail, providing an overview of their eligibility criteria, application processes, and the benefits they offer to international students.


Section A: Student Visa


The UK Student Visa allows non-UK nationals to undertake a higher education course at a UK institution.


1. What Does the Student Visa Allow?


The Student visa is for international students aged 16 or over who are enrolled in a full-time course with a UK institution, from degree level or higher education to certain further education courses.

The visa is valid for the duration of the course plus a short period after completion, which depends on the length of the course.

Ideal for international students looking to experience the UK’s diverse educational environment, this visa also allows students to work part-time for up to 20 hours per week during term and full-time during breaks, depending on the level of your course.

You’ll also be eligible to access public healthcare in the UK through the NHS, as you will have to pay the immigration healthcare surcharge as part of your visa application.

Following a change in the UK visa rules in January 2024, only students studying at postgraduate level for more than nine months at a recognised university can bring dependants.

To stay in the UK after your course, you may be able to switch to a different visa category, provided you meet the relevant eligibility requirements for that route.


2. Student Visa Restrictions


While the Student visa offers considerable flexibility to study and work when in the UK, there are certain restrictions on what you can and cannot do as an international student. This is because the primary purpose of the visa is to allow overseas nationals to come to the UK to access and experience the UK’s leading education system.

For example, you will not be allowed to start a business or be self-employed as a Student visa holder. You are also limited to 20 hours of part-time work per week during term time.

Students also cannot access public funds such as benefits and pensions; you must be financially self-sufficient while in the UK.

There are also restrictions on switching courses or institutions without reapplying for a new visa.


3. Course Requirements


The Student visa allows you to study on any of the following types of courses:


a. A full-time course leading to a qualification below degree level (RQF level 3, 4, or 5), which includes at least 15 hours per week of organised daytime study.

b. A full-time course leading to a qualification at degree level or above (RQF level 6, 7, or 8).

c. A full-time course at degree level or above (RQF level 6, 7, or 8) equivalent to a UK higher education course, delivered as part of a longer course abroad.

d. A part-time course leading to a qualification above degree level (RQF level 7 or higher).

e. A recognised foundation program for postgraduate doctors or dentists.

f. An English language course at level B2 or higher in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.


4. Student Visa Eligibility Criteria


To qualify for a UK Student Visa, applicants must meet several key criteria:


a. Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS): You must have an offer from an approved educational institution, which provides a CAS number as part of the application.

b. Financial Requirements: Applicants must demonstrate that they can support themselves and pay for their course – this usually means having enough funds to cover the first year of tuition fees and at least £1,023, or £1,334 if studying in London, per month for living costs.

c. English Language Proficiency: You must prove your English language skills through a Secure English Language Test (SELT) unless you’re from an English-speaking country or have completed a qualification equivalent to a UK degree in an English-speaking country.

d. Academic Qualification: Must provide evidence that supports the educational progression, such as qualifications already obtained.

e. Age Requirements: Generally, the applicant must be 16 or over.

f. Consent from Parents/Guardians: For applicants under 18, written consent from parents or guardians is required, along with proof of their relationship.

g. ATAS Certificate: You may need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate to study or research in certain areas at RQF level 7 or over.


5. Student Visa Application Process


Applying for a UK Student Visa involves several steps:


Step 1: Check Eligibility: Before starting the application, ensure you meet the eligibility criteria.

Step 2: Gather Required Documents: Prepare the necessary documents, including a current passport, a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from the approved study provider, proof of financial means, and evidence of English language proficiency.

Step 3: Complete the Online Application: Fill out the visa application form online via the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) website. This will include paying the visa fee and the immigration health surcharge, which provides access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

Step 4: Biometric Information: As part of the application, you’ll need to provide your fingerprints and a photograph at a Visa Application Centre.

Step 5: Interview: Depending on your circumstances, you may be required to attend an interview where you’ll answer questions about your study plans and personal situation.

Step 6: Wait for a Decision: The processing time can vary, but decisions are typically made within three weeks of the application date.


6. After Your Course has Finished


If you want to stay in the UK after completing your course, there are several options to consider. You should, however, ensure you apply for new status before your Student visa expires to avoid ‘overstaying’.


a. Extend Your Student Visa

You may be able to extend your Student visa if you have an unconditional offer of a place on a course from a licensed student sponsor, as evidenced by your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). You may also have to demonstrate that your studies are at a higher academic level than your current course, which is known as the ‘academic progress requirement,’ unless an exception applies.


b. Switch to a Different Visa 

The Student visa allows you to switch into a number of different categories at the end of your course without having to leave the UK.

Depending on your circumstances and plans, you could apply for the Graduate Route, which allows you to stay in the UK for a further two years, or three years if you have a PhD or other doctoral qualification, without strict conditions on the type of activity you can do, for example, you could find employment or work for yourself.

Alternatively, you may opt to switch into the Skilled Worker route if you have found a qualifying role with a UK sponsor or apply under the Innovator Founder route if you want to start your own business. You may also consider applying for a family visa if you are eligible on the basis of a personal relationship.


Read our guide to post-study UK visa options here.

Read our comprehensive guide to the UK Student visa here >>


Section B: Child Student Visa


The Child Student visa provides a pathway for younger learners to access quality education and the experience of living in the UK, preparing them for further education.


1. What Does the Child Student Visa Allow?


The Child Student Visa is designed for non-UK nationals aged between 4 and 17 years old who wish to study full-time at an independent school in the United Kingdom.

The visa is typically granted for the length of the course plus an additional four months at the end. For those aged 16 or under, this is usually up to six years plus four months, and for those aged 16 and 17, up to three years plus four months.

If you are aged 16 or older, the regulations allow you to engage in employment under certain conditions while on a student visa. Specifically, you can work part-time for up to 10 hours per week during term time. During school holidays, you are permitted to work full-time.

While in the UK, the student is able to access public healthcare, as the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge will be payable along with the visa application fee.

Those aged 16 or over may take on employment under certain conditions while on a student visa. They can work part-time for up to 10 hours per week during term time and full-time during school holidays.

Child Students may be able to extend their visa to continue their education at the same school or a different school, provided they remain eligible under the visa requirements.

This route is not suitable for applicants aged 18 or over; if you are aged 18 or over, you should apply under the Student visa route.


2. Child Student Visa Restrictions


This route is available only to child students with an unconditional offer at an accredited, independent fee-paying school; it is not applicable for government-funded schools.

Children under 12 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian unless they are coming to the UK to board at a residential independent school.

Child students cannot take up permanent full-time employment or engage in self-employment.

They are also not eligible for most public funds (benefits and pensions).


3. Course Requirements


To be eligible under this route, the course must be provided by an independent school with a valid Child Student sponsor licence. The course must also adhere to one of the following educational standards to be eligible:


a. The national curriculum

b. The Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) at level 3 or below

c. Independent school education inspection standards

The course could be recognised as being at an equivalent academic level by one of the following authoritative bodies:

a. Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)

b. Education Scotland

c. Estyn in Wales

d. Education and Training Inspectorate in Northern Ireland


4. Child Student Eligibility Criteria


To qualify for a Child Student Visa, applicants must meet the following requirements:


a. Age Range: Applicants must be between 4 and 17 years old.

b. Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS): The applicant must have an unconditional offer of a place on a course at an independent school licensed by the UK government to educate international students.

c. Financial Support: Must show evidence that they can pay for their course and support their living costs while in the UK. Parents or guardians will need to provide proof of funds.

d. Consent from Parents/Guardians: Written consent from either one or both parents or legal guardians is required, including proof of their relationship to the child and that they consent to the child’s application, travel, reception and care arrangements in the UK.


5. Child Student Visa Application Process


The application process for a Child Student Visa includes these steps:


Step 1: Check Eligibility: Verify that all eligibility requirements are satisfied.

Step 2: Secure Offer of Study: Secure an unconditional offer from a course that is provided by a licensed Child Student sponsor.

Step 3: Gather Required Documents: Prepare necessary documentation, such as a valid passport, proof of financial means and consent forms from parents/guardians.

The education provider will issue a unique reference number known as a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), which is a mandatory requirement for the visa application.

Step 4: Complete the Online Application: Fill out the visa application form on the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) website. This will include payment of the visa fee and the health surcharge.

If applying from outside the UK, the earliest an application can be made is six months before the start of the course.

If switching to the Child Student route from within the UK, applications can be made up to 3 months before the course start date. The new course must begin within 28 days of the current visa expiring.

Step 5: Biometric Information: Submit fingerprints and a photograph at a Visa Application Centre.

Step 6: Supporting Evidence: Depending on the applicant’s circumstances, additional documents may need to be provided.

Step 7: Wait for Decision: Processing times vary, but typically, a decision is received within three weeks.


6. After The Course has Finished


To remain in the UK at the end of the course, there are several options to consider. Remember, new status will need to be applied for before the Child Student visa expires to avoid ‘overstaying’.


a. Extend Your Student Visa

It may be possible to extend the Child Student Visa if the student is still eligible under the visa requirements, including having a place to study at an independent school and a valid CAS confirming their continued study.

b. Switch to a Different Visa 

It may be possible for the student to remain in the UK after their course by switching to another visa category. Depending on the circumstances and future plans, options could include applying for a Student visa if they will be moving on to higher education in the UK.

c. Leaving the UK 

In many cases, the child might need to return to their home country to apply for a new UK visa. For example, switching from a Child Student Visa to a work visa typically requires the applicant to leave the UK and apply from abroad.


Read our comprehensive guide to the Child Student visa here.


Section C: Short-term Study Visa


The Short-term Study Visa is for non-UK nationals who intend to enter the UK for a short English language course with an accredited institution.


1. What does the Short-Term Study Visa allow?


With a Short-Term Study visa, you can undertake an English language course in the UK lasting between 6 and 11 months.

The course could be a stand-alone course with an accredited UK institution or could be part of an English language course you are undertaking at an overseas higher education institution.

You should also be able to enter and leave the UK multiple times during the validity of your visa.

In addition to the application fee, you will also need to pay the healthcare surcharge, which will allow you to use the National Health Service (NHS) for public healthcare in the UK.


2. Short-Term Study Visa Restrictions


This visa is highly restrictive and limits permissible activities solely to undertaking the qualifying course of English language study with an accredited institution. This means you cannot study at a state-funded school or academy. You also cannot work in the UK under this visa, which includes placements and internships.

You must leave the UK at the end of your visit. You cannot apply to extend the visa or switch into a different visa category while in the UK.


3. Course Requirements


The English language course must be delivered by an ‘accredited institution,’ which can either be a UK institution or an overseas institution that meets the relevant eligibility requirements. The course cannot be provided by a state-funded institution.


a. UK Institutions 

UK institutions must hold either a valid Student sponsor licence or be accredited by a relevant UK authority.


b. Overseas Institutions 

If you’re enrolled at an overseas higher education institution and a portion of your English language course takes place in the UK, you may be eligible for a Short-term study visa. The requirements for your institution include holding national accreditation, limiting its UK-based educational programme to no more than 50% of the total, and offering programmes that are on par with a UK degree.


4. Short-Term Student Eligibility Criteria


Applicants must meet these conditions to qualify for a Short-term Study Visa:


a. Purpose of Visit: To study English Language on a course lasting between 6 to 11 months with an accredited institution.

b. Financial Means: You must show you have enough money to support yourself during your stay without working or needing help from public funds, and you must have enough to pay for your return travel at the end of your visa.

c. Education Provider: Must not be planning to study at a state-funded school or academy.


5. Child Student Visa Application Process


The steps to apply for a Short-term Study Visa are as follows:


Step 1: Check Eligibility: Confirm that the planned study or research meets the visa requirements.

Step 2: Gather Documents: Prepare the necessary documents, including a current passport, proof of acceptance to the course, and evidence of financial means.

Step 3: Apply Online: Complete the visa application form on the UK Government’s official website.

Step 4: Biometric Information: Provide fingerprints and a photograph at a designated Visa Application Centre.

Step 5: Wait for Decision: The decision usually takes about three weeks from the date of application.


6. After the Course is Finished


You must leave the UK at the end of your English language course. If you wish to return, you will need to apply for the appropriate visa from outside the UK.


Section D: Common Myths About the UK Study Visa


Debunking common myths about student visas can help clarify the application process and set realistic expectations for prospective international students with plans to study in the UK.


Myth 1: The visa application process is overly complicated and always requires a lawyer.

Reality: Consulting with a lawyer or an immigration adviser is helpful in complex cases but not always necessary. The visa application process can seem daunting, but many students can complete it on their own. Educational institutions also generally offer guidance and support to their incoming international students.


Myth 2: Once you have a student visa, you can work as many hours as you like.

Reality: Most student visas come with specific restrictions regarding employment. In the UK, for instance, students with a student visa may work up to 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during holidays. These regulations are in place to ensure that students remain focused on their studies.


Myth 3: You can easily switch courses or institutions once you get to the country.

Reality: Switching courses or institutions is not as straightforward as it may seem. Any major change in your study plan—like changing your course or moving to a different institution—requires you to inform the Home Office, and in some cases, you may need to apply for a new visa.


Myth 4: Student visas are guaranteed once you get an acceptance letter from a university.

Reality: An acceptance letter from a university is a crucial requirement, but it does not guarantee a visa. Applicants must meet all other criteria, including financial requirements, English language proficiency, and background checks.


Myth 5: Student visas can be easily converted into permanent residency.

Reality: UK study visas do not themselves offer a direct route to UK permanent residence, or ‘indefinite leave to remain’ (ILR). Student visa holders, for example, would need to switch into a visa category that leads to UK ILR, such as the Skilled Worker visa.


Myth 6: If you’re denied a student visa, your chances of getting one in the future are slim.

Reality: A previous visa denial does not necessarily impact future applications. What’s important is addressing the reasons for the initial denial in subsequent applications. Applicants should ensure that any deficiencies in their previous application, such as incomplete documentation or failure to meet financial requirements, are properly addressed.


Myth 7: Student visas are extended as long as you are enrolled in school.

Reality: Visa extensions are not automatic and must be applied for with substantial justification and adherence to existing immigration rules. Students need to show they are making progress in their studies and meet other ongoing requirements.


Section E: Summary


When it comes to studying in the United Kingdom, many prospective students and their families often refer to a “UK study visa”. However, the term “study visa” is not officially recognised by the UK Government. Instead, the UK offers three specific visas for studying: the Student Visa, the Child Student Visa, and the Short-term Study Visa.

Each of these serves a distinct purpose and caters to different educational needs, from primary and secondary education to short courses and full-time university degrees.

Prospective students must carefully evaluate their situation to determine which visa category best suits their academic and personal goals. By adhering to the eligibility criteria and following the application processes outlined, students can enhance their chances of a successful visa application.

It is also important to be aware of the benefits and restrictions associated with each visa type to avoid issues and make the most of your educational journey in the UK.


Section F: FAQs


What is the difference between a Student Visa and a Child Student Visa?

Student Visa is intended for individuals who are 16 years or older and wish to study at the post-secondary level in the UK. Child Student Visa is designed for children aged between 4 and 17 who plan to study at independent schools in the UK.


Can I work in the UK on a Student Visa?
Students on a Student Visa can work part-time up to 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during vacations, depending on their course level and the type of sponsorship they have.


How long does it take to process a UK student visa application?
The processing time can vary, but typically, decisions are made within three weeks of the application date if applying from outside the UK.


Can I extend my Short-term Study Visa?
No, the Short-term Study Visa cannot be extended. If you wish to stay longer for studies, you may need to apply for a different type of visa.


What financial proof do I need to provide for a UK student visa?
You will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of your stay. The exact amount varies depending on your situation and the length and location of your study.


Are there age restrictions for the Short-term Study Visa?
No specific age restrictions apply to the Short-term Study Visa; however, it is typically used by adults attending short courses or conducting short-term research. Children under 18 may need additional documentation and arrangements.


Can family members accompany me to the UK on a student visa?
Dependents can accompany you to the UK if you are on a postgraduate course at a higher education institution for more than nine months or if you are a government-sponsored student on a course longer than six months.


What happens if my student visa application is denied?
If your application is denied, you will receive a letter explaining the reasons for the refusal. You can apply again, but you should address the reasons for the previous denial in your new application.


Section G: Glossary


Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS): A unique reference number issued by a licensed sponsor, such as an educational institution, which is required to apply for a UK Student Visa.

Child Student Visa: A visa designed for children aged between 4 and 17 who want to study at independent schools in the UK.

Dependent: A family member who relies on another person for financial support, such as a spouse or child, who may accompany a student to the UK under certain visa categories.

English Language Proficiency: A required level of skill in the English language, demonstrated by passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT), necessary for obtaining most UK student visas.

Financial Requirements: Proof of having sufficient funds to cover tuition fees and living expenses while studying in the UK, as required by visa regulations.

Home Office: The government department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order, which includes the administration of the immigration process in the UK.

Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS): A fee paid by non-EEA nationals who are temporarily staying in the UK for longer than six months to access the National Health Service (NHS).

National Health Service (NHS): The publicly funded healthcare system of the UK, which provides most services free at the point of use for residents, including those on student visas who have paid the IHS.

Short-term Study Visa: A visa that allows individuals to study short courses in the UK for up to 6 months, or 11 months specifically for English language courses.

Student Visa: A visa designed for individuals who want to come to the UK for post-16 education at a licensed sponsor institution.

Tier 4 (General) student visa: This was the previous name for what is now known as the Student Visa. It was part of the UK’s points-based visa system, applicable before the Student and Child Student visas were introduced under the current system.

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI): The division of the Home Office responsible for handling visas and immigration matters in the UK.


Section H: Links and References


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) – Student Visa Information

Official UK government site for visa and immigration services, providing detailed guidance on Student Visas.


UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)
Offers advice and information on all aspects of studying as an international student in the UK.


British Council – Study UK

Comprehensive resource for international students, including advice on choosing courses, understanding UK culture, and visa application tips. Study UK – British Council



Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

Legal disclaimer


The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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